Justice asks Braves fans to prove comments wrong Outfielder says support isn't what it was in '91


ATLANTA -- The headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution read thusly yesterday morning: "Justice takes a rip at Braves fans."

David Justice didn't like the headline, nor the angle of the story. But he did not back off his statement that he felt Atlanta fans hadn't supported the team as strongly as they had in 1991.

A crowd of reporters surrounded Justice before yesterday's game, and at first, he said he would not talk to journalists at length any more. "All that conversation," Justice said, "that's over. From now on, you get short McGriff answers."

(Braves first baseman Fred McGriff is noteworthy for his short answers).

But Justice was smiling, and he started to give long answers. David Justice answers.

"What I said was, the fans weren't behind us [in Game 1 and 2] as they were in 1991," Justice said. "My whole point was a statement of fact. They weren't behind us as they were in the past."

What Justice wanted, he said, was to have the fans "prove me wrong. Prove I'm a fool. I'll admit it. I'll go on TV and say it. I'll go from house to house."

Justice said he expected to get booed for his comments (and he was, during pregame introductions). "I'm sure they'll boo me tonight. But I can deal with that. I've only got two days left. I can deal with that.

"But all things pass. About six months from now, we'll be worrying about who will win the NBA championship, not this."

Vocal gamesmanship

Justice continued to jibe Cleveland pitcher Orel Hershiser for saying that the pressure was on the Braves. "Don't play no mind games on us," Justice said. "Keep your comments to yourself. I'm speaking on behalf of my teammates. They don't have to worry about any of that stuff. They can just go out and play. Hey, there are a lot of things [mind games] going on in the World Series."

Somebody asked Justice if the Braves and Indians would be congratulating each other at the end of the World Series, because the teams don't seem to share much affection -- witness the confrontation between Eddie Murray and Greg Maddux, the angry words Justice had for Hershiser, etc.

"Nah, it's no big deal," Justice said. "We [Justice and Hershiser] can go out to dinner, and I'll buy. I'll tell him right there, Orel, quit playing them damn mind games. But I don't have anything against those guys. It's not personal."

It's not personal. But several Braves, including Justice, did not like the comment by Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel that Atlanta cannot win the series. "They know they can't win a World Series," Vizquel said. "They already lost twice. When you have that on your mind, it's tough to get out."

"I think that's ridiculous," said Atlanta left fielder Ryan Klesko. "I think it's a real plus for us to have so many veteran guys who have been in it before, because they know what it takes to win a big series."

All gamemanship, said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. "I would assume both teams have quite a bit of pressure on them," he said. "Doing a lot of talking about it doesn't make it any easier. You deal with it and go out and play the best you can."

Belle apologizes

Prior to last night's game, Cleveland outfielder Albert Belle apologized to NBC reporter Hannah Storm for cussing at her prior to Game 4 of the World Series. Storm accepted -- "I'm happy he apologized," she said -- and Hargrove sent her a letter of apology.

But in a pregame press conference, other reporters, some of whom have been cussed at themselves by Belle in the past, peppered Cleveland general manager John Hart with questions about Belle's "votality" and where the GM would draw the line of acceptable behavior.

"I think there is only certain things an organization can do," Hart said, "I think its something in which the organization would be supportive until you find out what the facts are. At this particular stage, an organization can take whatever action it deems appropriate and ultimately it falls back to the player."

One writer asked Hart if Belle was going apologize to all the writers he has cussed at, and Hart said he would "defer comment."

According to a spokesman for Major League Baseball, the commissioner's office is looking into the incident involving Storm, and will render a punishment.

Expanded bullpen

If there is a Game 7, Game 5 starters Hershiser and Greg Maddux will be available to pitch out of the bullpen.

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